Artifact Corner: Battle of Plattsburgh Edition – Draft Markers

Hi everyone, and welcome to a special Battle of Plattsburgh edition of our Artifact Corner series. We will be doing three videos featuring artifacts that were recovered from the Battle of Plattsburgh. Today we will be looking at these two copper draught markers. One is an eight foot marker and the other is a twenty foot marker. Each are made of copper, and show some signs of aging. This is hardly surprising given amount of time they spent under water. We are not sure if these draught markers are British or American.

What is a draught marker? A draught marker is something affixed to the ship to indicate how deep the hull of a vessel is sitting in the water. As you load heavy things on to a boat, the boat will inevitably sit lower in the water. So if you are loading very heavy things, like cannons, and shot to be fired from said cannons, men, and provisions for the men on to a ship, the ship’s hull will sit deeper in the water. The draught marker is there to let you know how deep your hull is. This is very important because you do not want to strike bottom with your vessel. When you are sailing a vessel out at sea, if you are away from shore, the likelihood that you will hit the bottom with your ship is small, but on an inland body of water, like say Lake Champlain, there are many rocky outcroppings and shoals that may come up out of seemingly nowhere. By 1814 Lake Champlain had been mapped by Europeans for over 200 years, so the lake was fairly well mapped by both the Americans and the British. But, the American’s definitely had a home field advantage, since this was quite literally their neck of the woods. Still, it was very important for both sides to know how deep their boats were sitting in the water.

On September 11, 1814, the two fleets of vessels engaged on Lake Champlain, just past Cumberland Head. The British and American fleets were fairly similarly matched with the exception of the range of their guns. The British had more long range cannons than the Americans, but thanks to the skills of Thomas Macdonough, the commander of the American fleet, the British were out gunned and maneuvered. The American fleet had been well trained, while the British fleet had few trained seaman. The commander of the British fleet, Captain George Downie, had mostly French Canadian militia men, who did not have experience as sailors. The battle also began inauspiciously for the British when their commander Capt. Downie was decapitated by a 20 pound cannon ball fifteen minutes into the engagement. After two hours of fierce battle on the water, the British surrendered to the Americans. It was a hard fought battle. The British lost four of their warships, 168 of their men were killed and 220 were wounded. The Americans lost 104 men, and 116 men were wounded. The Americans lost none of their vessels.

As I mentioned earlier, we don’t know if these draught markers are from and American vessel or from a British ship. One of the conundrums surrounding these pieces is the twenty foot draught marker. Neither the British or American fleets had a ship with a draught that deep, so why was it on a vessel? We may never know the answer. These two pieces have been carefully restored and preserved by the Conservation Lab at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, and are a part of their collections. We are so grateful for the generosity of the Marine Research Institute at LCMM. If you like to learn more, please check out their website, We hope you enjoyed this first video in our commemoration of the Battle of Plattsburgh series, and thanks so much for stopping by!

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,